Headlines about brown recluse spiders always catch my attention, so my antennae were raised by a news item from Indiana: "Spider Bite Likely Cause in Evansville Man's Death."
Brown recluse spider
Several Evansville area newspapers and tv stations reported that Keith Reed, a 42-year-old man, died of an apparent bite from a brown recluse spider. Reed was found dead in his home. After returning from a camping trip three weeks earlier, Reed told his wife he thought he had been bitten by something while in the woods. The day prior to his death, Reed had a fever and was in excruciating pain.
The coroner will need to confirm the cause of death before we can say for sure whether Reed's death was the work of a brown recluse. Fluid from the site of the suspected bite and hair samples from the victim can be tested to confirm the presence of brown recluse venom.
I read most brown recluse headlines with skepticism. Misdiagnose of brown recluse bites is common, unfortunately. There's only two ways to tell for sure if a brown recluse bit someone: catch the spider and have its identity confirmed by an arachnologist, or confirm the presence of venom in the patient's body. Physicians who practice medicine in places where brown recluse spiders do not exist have been known to diagnose patients with brown recluse bites, sans spider or venom.
In Mr. Reed's case, I can't dismiss the claim so easily. Indiana is brown recluse territory. Reed reported that he tripped during his camping trip. Brown recluse spiders aren't aggressive, but will bite defensively when pressed or crushed, such as might have happened when Reed fell in the woods.
If county coroner Annie Groves does prove Mr. Reed's death was caused by a brown recluse, I hope she will stress the rarity of such a death. Even in places where recluse spiders are plentiful, bites are uncommon. And the majority of people who are bitten by brown recluse spiders recover completely, without any medical intervention at all.
More Headlines About Brown Recluse Spiders:
- Brown Recluse Bite? Grab a Stun Gun and Zap Away the Pain
- Mom Wants Park Sprayed for Non-Existent Spiders